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This spring, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher introduced a bill aimed at reshaping the San Diego Association of Governments.
Her effort had momentum from the beginning, as the regional planning agency was consumed by scandal uncovered by Voice of San Diego.
From the beginning, though, her bill faced one clear obstacle: Gov. Jerry Brown’s well-known opposition to state legislation dedicated to local concerns.
Yet Brown signed AB 805 this week, wrapping up a tumultuous year for the agency that has now lost its long-time executive director, and will undergo a series of structural changes.
In short, Gonzalez Fletcher and her coalition of political supporters – namely, progressives and organized labor – now have the tools to control a major regional entity.
After Brown signed the bill, I spoke with Gonzalez Fletcher about how she persuaded him that it was important, and what we can expect now.
Assemblywoman, thanks for giving me a few minutes.
Thank you for giving me a bill.
The last time we talked about it, you hinted that you brought (AB 805) up back when SB 1 (the gas tax) was under discussion. Can you tell me anything more about those discussions?
In no way was I saying that was needed for my support. Look, I was voting for the transportation package. I’m in leadership, so it’d be tough not to vote for. But I did bring it up. I brought it up to a number of his close staff members and throughout the process when we discussed the gas tax and cap and trade. I never let an opportunity go by without talking about our need for SANDAG reform. It was just a reminder to folks in Sacramento that this was important to me. When we’re talking about a lot of money going to roads and transportation, that we in San Diego have unique needs. We talk a lot about the needs of individual communities, and this was an individualized need my community had.
Gov. Jerry Brown has regularly said he would rather not wade into local issues if he can avoid it. Do you have a sense why you were able to prevail upon him that this was different?
No — it was interesting and this is my perception: We talked a lot with his staff about the issues, and they were less interested in the scandal. They agreed with the need for an independent auditor, certainly. But they were much more interested in the lack of proportional representation, and we talked about what that meant in San Diego. We talked a lot about how in San Diego you have a little bit of Trump’s America, and you have some very progressive areas like my district. You have far extremes of our country and our state, and it’s a county in transition with under-served portions. With his transportation secretary, we went through what this change meant for votes. Like, could you previously actually get a positive vote on the question of whether greenhouse gas emissions come from mobile sources, and it is the responsibility of agency to address that? If you put that up for vote at SANDAG, you probably couldn’t get a yes vote on that factual statement. I think that was compelling.
Now that the bill has passed, what conversations are you looking toward that could have different outcomes based on the new voting structure?
Day one, upon implementation, we’ll have a new chair at the Metropolitan Transit System. So that’s a new direction, I would guess. You’ll see the most immediate changes at MTS. And then I think what you’ll see is, those same folks, like-minded folks at MTS and SANDAG, will take the initiative. We have had the chance at MTS to use a weighted vote and we never did until AB 805 came around. So a lot of this is people realizing they have the opportunity to make more progressive, forward-thinking policy changes. It was my part to change the structure. It’s their responsibility to empower themselves and change the outcomes.
(The bill changes MTS board policy to ensure someone from the board is elected chair not someone from the community.)
You also got your diaper bill signed, which was a windmill you had tilted at a number of times. (The diaper bill makes subsidized diapers available to people who are in the CalWorks and Cal-Learn programs and have children under 3-years-old.)
I did! Oh my gosh, I’m a happy woman.
What do you think it was about the bill or about your pitch for it that got it signed after it had been vetoed previously?
I don’t know. I believe strongly in, when you have new big ideas, you have to get people comfortable. You don’t usually get these adopted on the first try. When you have a new approach, or something new, it takes a while to sink in, to consider the cost and policy implications. We finally got there. I was shocked, though. I thought it would be vetoed.
Are you willing to give a preview on any other bills you’ve introduced before, or new bills, that might be your priorities in the next session?
I don’t know yet. I have two bills that were previously vetoed that were now signed. I have one more sitting on his desk I’m hoping will get signed, and one I’m sure will get vetoed. So that’s four altogether that that were vetoed and I put back on his desk. I’ll continue to work on women in the workplace issues. We have a couple things we’re looking at. English-learners is the other one that was signed. And our solar bill we held back, it wasn’t vetoed. But I don’t think I can say or I’ll get in trouble. Evan (McLaughlin, chief of staff), doesn’t let me give a preview until December.
There’s a view that I get a lot of bills vetoed, I’ve heard people say that. I don’t think I have a higher average, I just don’t try to hide it when it happens, and I bring them back. I think it’s more of an approach that’s different from other people.
— Andrew Keatts
Notorious Gang Database Will Get Major Overhaul
Another one of the big bills from San Diego legislators we’ve had on our radar was signed this week, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to reform CalGang, the state’s gang database.
The legislation came in response to an explosive audit requested by Weber that revealed flaws, invasions of privacy and abuse of the system by law enforcement officials.
Stories of people who say they were inappropriately labeled as gang members – and that their lives were upended as a result – run up and down the state. But the 2014 case of several San Diego men charged using an obscure statute brought the issue of gang documentation into the national spotlight. In that case, then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis argued that people could be held accountable for crimes they did not participate in if they belonged to the same gang as the perpetrators. She was essentially making a case for guilt by association. Most of the men in that case live in neighborhoods represented by Weber. A judge dismissed charges against many of them.
AB 90 hands oversight of the database to the California Department of Justice, requires periodic audits and prevents the information in the database from being shared with federal authorities for immigration enforcement.
Another Pair of Bills Aim to Change How San Diego County Votes
Brown this week also signed a pair of bills written by Weber and Assemblyman Todd Gloria that aim to ultimately change how San Diego County elections are conducted. Here’s how we described them back in August:
AB 801 would overhaul the redistricting process for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Right now, a panel of retired judges is supposed to redraw districts, but Weber is concerned those judges will not take proper account of the county’s diversity. (Right now, all county supervisors are white.)
AB 901 attempts to ensure every candidate for county office faces voters in the fall. Right now, county candidates can take office without facing voters in a fall general election if they win a majority of the votes during the June primary. Gloria’s office tentatively expects the Senate to take up the bill before the end of the month and is talking with the governor’s office about what it makes of the bill.
Taken together with the bill overhauling SANDAG and two major citywide election reforms approved by voters in 2016, San Diego Democrats have won a handful of victories that could “chip away at structural factors that afforded Republicans a slight advantage at the voting booth, and gave them greater sway over regional spending than would be expected by the raw voter breakdown in the county,” Andrew Keatts notes.
The Last Bill-Signing Hurrah of 2017
This is it, guys, our last exhaustive rundown of bills written by local lawmakers that were signed into law this week. I’ll cherish this time we’ve spent together.
AB 81 by Gonzalez Fletcher requires schools to notify parents when their child has been classified a long-term English-learner.
AB 153 by Assemblyman Rocky Chavez requires elected officials convicted under the Stolen Valor Act to forfeit their office.
AB 228 by Assemblyman Todd Gloria revises consumer protections for purchasers of autographed collectibles and narrows the definition of a dealer.
AB 236 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein clarifies that an otherwise CalWORKs-eligible family that is reunifying with a child in foster care could also be eligible for temporary housing assistance provided by CalWORKs.
AB 307 by Maienschein revises the definition of a “capital asset” for the purposes of trust allocation.
AB 480 by Gonzalez Fletcher provides CalWORKs welfare-to-work participants assistance with diaper costs for children under 3.
AB 1070 by Gonzalez Fletcher requires disclosures to consumers before they purchase, lease or finance a solar energy system, and makes the Department of Consumer Affairs responsible for resolving complaints against solar companies.
AB 1106 by Weber permits the state superintendent to create a contracting process that maximizes childcare funding allocated to working families.
AB 1384 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber recognizes the Trauma Recovery Center at San Francisco General Hospital as the State Pilot Trauma Recovery Center, and requires the California Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board to use the model developed by the center when it awards grants to establish additional trauma recovery centers.
AB 1448 by Weber allows the Parole Board to consider granting parole to an elderly prisoner who has served at least 25 years.
AB 1530 by Gonzalez Fletcher requires CalFire to implement a program in urban forestry that encourages better tree management and planting in urban areas.
AB 1535 by Maienschein clarifies rules governing the dissolution of a corporation.
SB 285 by Sen. Toni Atkins strengthens protections for public employee union members by clarifying their right to remain as members of a union without interference, intimidation or coercion.
SB 336 by Sen. Joel Anderson expands the definition of “exonerated” for the purpose of eligibility for assistance with transitional services upon release from prison.
SB 507 by Sen. Ben Hueso allows money to be set aside for land purchases to be used to study fixes for the Tijuana River Valley.
SB 667 by Atkins codifies the Riverine and Riparian Stewardship Program at the Department of Water Resources.
SB 625 by Atkins creates an honorable discharge program for youth who complete probation after release from detention.
AB 1312 by Gonzalez Fletcher extends the amount of time that rape kits and forensic evidence must be kept and adds specific rights for rape survivors to California law.
AB 1386 by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron provides patients with information relating to breast cancer susceptibility gene mutations in order to inform treatment decisions and increase genetic counseling and screening rates.
AB 480 by Gonzalez Fletcher provides CalWORKs welfare-to-work participants assistance with diaper costs for children under 3.
AB 547 by Assemblyman Rocky Chávez would have required the state to pay invoices submitted by small businesses owned by disabled veterans within 30 days. Brown said he was vetoing the bill to avoid creating a duplicative process.
Golden State News
• Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s announcement that she’ll run for re-election has amplified the fight between California’s old guard and newer activists. State Senate leader Kevin de Leon, a San Diego native, is openly flirting with a challenge to Feinstein. (Politico, Sacramento Bee)
• A columnist applauds Gov. Jerry Brown’s move to limit the sex-offender registry. (Bloomberg View)
• A new study found that Uber and Lyft decrease transit and bike use. (San Francisco Chronicle)
• A school that calls itself the Christian Hogwarts is causing a major rift within the city of Redding. (Buzzfeed)